‘Look! Look! LOOK!’ I shrieked at my friend Marq. ‘A Clathrus Ruber!’, ‘LOOK!’
I hopped around excitably while pointing at a mass of red mushroom emerging from the undergrowth like an alien egg. Flies buzzed in the putrid miasma emitting from this strange form.
What we had stumbled upon on our quiet walk was a rare fungus not often seen in the
This startling form emits a smell of rotting flesh to attract flies to disperse
it’s spores. I was VERY excited. Marq just looked at me and said ‘wonderful’ as
every true friend should say in this situation. The expression on his face
however suggested he felt this was rather less than wonderful. Still my
enthusiasm wasn’t curbed and my interest in fungi had been truly reignited. UK
This interest dates back to early childhood. Like most children on the spectrum I developed intense and obsessive interests. Questions often pop up on the forums from parents asking how they can get their child to be less obsessive and develop more mainstream interests; my parents just went along with it. I had been developing a slightly odd interest in drain pipes, probably because the book I was currently reading involved a boogy-man who lived in the sewers. The upgrade of my attentions from sewers to fungi was probably gladly welcomed.
It all started one late summer afternoon when I found a group of brightly coloured mushrooms growing near my Grandma’s house. Being at the ‘what’s that?’ age my dad decided to buy me an identification book so I could figure out for myself what they were. The book was vast, hundreds of pages filled with pictures of fungi, listing their Latin names and various identification details ranging from size, habitat, spore colour and shape to technical biological and chemical factors.
If you are not wanting to promote an obsession in an autistic child – DON’T buy them a scientific manual at the age of 5! I quickly decided that I needed to find ALL of the fungi.
My long suffering parents took an approach to my interests that I only fully appreciate now I’m an adult – they got involved and made it a family and fun time. The interest in fungi allowed for some great walks out in the forest; Dad trailing behind as I bounced about through the undergrowth. We had art sessions involving taking spore prints and sculpting play-dough fungi, and forming some great memories. It’s clear looking back that my rigidity as a child could be loosened if there was a link to what ever interests I had at the time and if I could see a point to it. I remember my mum wanting to go to a Country House for a day trip. I was more than happy, I’d been told there were gardens that might contain fungi! I have very fond memories of the trips and adventures we got up to as a family.
I quickly learned how to identify my finds and was able to identify many of the tasty edibles and know which to avoid. I was never overly concerned about eating my finds, I actually don’t like the taste of mushrooms at all and the regular shop-style mushrooms are ones I always found fairly dull (they are just plain looking white things after all) but a clear memory I have was being told not to touch one as it was poisonous. I was rather aghast by this clear ignorance of my expert knowledge and proceeded to educate this ignoramus of the clear difference between this Agaricus Bisporus and it’s poisonous cousin the Agaricus Xanthodermus. This was my teacher and I was 7….
As an adult I’ve learned to tone things down and my interest is reserved for occasional walks in the forest. I regularly get people bringing their finds to me at work to find if it’s a tasty treat. Often it’s not, but it’s still a great ice breaker and makes some interesting coffee time chat.
One of the species I’d longed to see as a child was the Common Earthstar. Starting life like the well known puffball, this round fungus emerges and quickly cracks open into a star shape. The arms of the star fold down and majestically lift the spore-bearing ball away from the ground. It was so different looking that I circled it in the book with my crayon and spent the next 25 years searching for one. Despite being supposedly common it stayed hidden from my sight.
Last weekend I decided to have an old fashioned Father-Son day out in the woods to mark the start of this year’s fungus season. We chose Crab Wood, one of our regular spots as a child. To our amazement the first find of the day was the earthstar we’d spend all these years searching for. Sitting proudly in clear sight by the main path, there she was in all her glory, welcoming us to the woods and inviting us in for another fun day foraging.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my story. I’d love to hear your stories of how you enjoy your interests or your child’s interests. I’d especially love to hear from you if you’ve found a way of combining your interests with employment.